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Caruana Galizia's car was "a ball of fire"; witnesses describe "chaotic" scene in Bidnija

Enormous explosion heard as car went up in flames, resident tells court

The court building has been heavily guarded since the suspects have been arraigned. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The court building has been heavily guarded since the suspects have been arraigned. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The compilation of evidence probing the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued in court on Thursday morning.

What we learnt from the witnesses testifying:

  • A resident saw the victim's car go up in flames. He got out of his car to try to help but when he witnessed the horror around him he realised he couldn't do anything. 
  • The Bidnija man's car missed Ms Caruana Galizia's burning car by a few metres.
  • The CPD station officer searched the scene for other potential victims when he realised there was a body in the car. 
  • A CID officer said a search for explosives at one of the accused's residence did not yield anything.

11.24am: No more witnesses for the day. The next sitting will take place on March 26. 

11.10am: The magistrate asks defence lawyer Martin Fenech why he keeps asking witnesses about the warrant as well as about the briefing leading to the Marsa raid. 

"I think if they didn't have a briefing they would really be amateurs," the magistrate chips in.

The three suspects.The three suspects.

10.52am: Witness Francis Sant says he was out shopping and recalls how he saw a slow car approaching his vehicle as he approached the hill in Bidnija. At first the car was driving slowly and then he heard a sound, "like a bullet being fired".

The next thing he knows, within a few seconds, there was a second "enormous" explosion.

"At first it seemed like someone was pressing the car brakes but then with the second explosion... the car lost control and ploughed into the field. The car was up in flames and then there was another explosion... as though a petrol tank blew up.

The Bidnija resident describes the approaching car as a small one which looked like a white Peugeot.

The only thing I could do was warn those coming over not to drive over any of the body parts

The car missed his own vehicle by a few metres. "It was a ball of fire while moving past."

Mr Sant says he got out of his car to try to help but as soon as he saw body parts on the road and the explosion he realised he could do very little.

"The only thing I could do was warn those coming over not to drive over any of the body parts."

10.42am: The defence lawyer randomly asks inspector Keith Arnaud if he "recognises" the accused. He says he doesn't.

10.28am: As the court hears witnesses, the Civil Society Network announces a candlelight vigil for Daphne Caruana Galizia for Friday at 6.30pm in front of the law courts in Valletta to mark the fourth month anniversary of the murder. 

10.18am: Alex Smith from the Explosives Ordinance Unit describes the aftermath of the explosion as "chaotic". Civil Protection officials and police officers were on scene, many speaking on their mobile phones. He inspected the area to ensure there was no other explosive device before he cordoned off the area.

He then asked everyone to leave the area until the court experts arrive.

File photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia walking into court.File photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia walking into court.

10.12am: CPD station officer Frederick Sammut was one of the first firefighters on site during that fateful afternoon. He describes seeing police cars on one side of the burning vehicle. "There wasn't much left to burn and I could see there was a person inside on the passenger's side," he says.

Once he realised that it was evident the person inside the vehicle was not alive, he moved back and searched the area in case there was another person impacted by the blast.

10.03am: Lawyer Martin Fenech asks crime scene expert Richard Aquilina whether there was police present at the potato shed and whether anyone could access the scene.

The architect says the gate was still locked up and nobody could access it.

10am: Dr Fenech asks officer if he had a warrant for the potato shed raid but the witness says he was never involved in actually searching the place but only drove a van to the destination.

The lawyer then asks whether he had a search warrant during the raid at the St Paul's Bay flat. The witness replies that inspector Keith Arnaud had shown the suspect the search warrant before the search.

The raid in Marsa on December 4. Photo: Jonathan BorgThe raid in Marsa on December 4. Photo: Jonathan Borg

9.50am: CID officer Luca Grasso recalls the raid in Marsa on December 4 which led to the arrest of the suspects. He says he later helped to carry out a search in the residence of Alfred Degiorgio, one of the accused. They carried out a search for explosives but they did not find anything.

A number of mobile phone devices and top-up vouchers were confiscated.

New video: Ten suspects in Caruana Galizia murder arrested

9.45am: Eric Edilston, another firefighter, says he noticed body parts in the crime scene. A doctor was also on site by then.

9.41am: First witness, Arthur Grech, a firefighter from the Civil Protection Department, gives evidence. He explains the massive blaze which enveloped the area after the victim's car was blown up by a bomb. 

The wreckage of the car on October 16. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaThe wreckage of the car on October 16. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

9.39am: The magistrate walks into the courtroom as the three men accused of the murder are escorted in.  

9.30am: The compilation of evidence against Vincent Muscat and Degiorgio brothers George and Alfred continues, with prosecuting officers summoning various individuals to testify and corroborate their information. Family members of the slain journalist are in the court room. 

In the last sitting on February 7, defence lawyers complained about unfair visitation rights and leaks to the media as they said life behind bars is proving to be a tough pill to swallow for the three men who stand accused of murdering the journalist.

Read: Prison leaks and visitation rights: Caruana Galizia murder suspects unhappy with prison life

What we know so far:

Ms Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb blast on October 16, almost four months to date, close to her home in Bidnija.

In December, police arrested 10 men in connection with her murder.

Three of those - Degiorgio brothers Alfred and George, and Vincent Muscat - were charged with her murder. The others were released on police bail without charge.

After a couple of false starts, the compilation of evidence got underway with magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit presiding.

So far, she has heard how police:

Used the FBI's help to home in on suspicious phone numbers. One was linked to a remote-controlled device and went active at 2am in Bidnija on the day of Ms Caruana Galzia's murder. It received an SMS at the time the bomb went off and immediately went off-radar.

Believe that the phone which sent the bomb detonation SMS was an old Nokia 105. Police found several Nokia 105 phones at the Marsa shed they arrested the suspects at.

READ: Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Triangulated cell tower data to work out that the killer SMS was sent from out at sea. George Degiorgio was seen going fishing on that day, and shortly after the bomb went off texted his partner "buy me wine, my love."

Received reports of a suspicious car regularly parked by tat-Tarġa Battery - an ideal vantage point for the killers - in the weeks leading to the murder. The car was subsequently never seen there again.

Found a "fresh-looking" cigarette butt with Alfred Degiorgio's DNA on it under a tree at the tat-Tarġa vantage point.

The key courtroom players:

Martin Fenech is appearing for Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, 55.

William Cuschieri and Martha Muscat are appearing for Alfred Degiorgio, known as il-Fulu, 53.

Josette Sultana is appearing for Alfred's brother George Degiorgio, known as iċ-Ċiniz 55.

Philip Galea Farrugia from the attorney general's office and inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra are appearing for the prosecution.

Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile.

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